Posted in Events

Onora O’Neill: “What would Edmund Burke think of Human Rights” (Annual Burke Lecture, TCD)

The inaugural Edmund Burke Lecture is on the subject of Human Rights. Edmund Burke was sceptical about the Rights of Man, but also deeply interested in what moral codes should underpin society. The (Northern Ireland born) Baroness O’Neill of Bengarve CH CBE FBA will lecture on the topic: “What would Edmund Burke think of Human Rights” as part of the President of Ireland’s Ethics Initiative on Tuesday 22 April 2014 18:00 in the Trinity Long Room Hub. More details here.

The event is free but booking is required.

Also see Joe Humphrey’s interview with Onora O’Neill in the Irish Times.

Her TED talks lecture on “What we don’t understand about trust” is here.

Posted in William Molyneux

Epitaph for William Molyneaux

William Molyneux epitaph, St. Audoen's Church, Cornmarket, Dublin Via Wikicommons/CC
William Molyneux epitaph, St. Audoen’s Church, Cornmarket, Dublin
Via Wikicommons/CC

William Molyneux (17 April 1656 – 11 October 1698)’s epitaph on the wall of the old chancel (now in the open air) of the Church of Ireland St. Audoen’s Church, Cornmarket, in Dublin, Ireland. The section referring to him starts about halfway down the stone.

whom LOCKE was proud to call his friend
author of The Case Of Ireland Stated
of the Dioprica Nova
long the standard authority in optics
and of many other scientific works.
He died 11th October 1698 at the age of 42 years
to the grief of friends
and to the loss of his country.
His remains with those of
many distinguished ancestors & kinsmen
rest in the adjoining vault of the
daughter of SIR WILLIAM DOMVILE and left
an only son SAMUEL not less distinguished
as a statesman & philosopher. He was secretary
to FREDERICK Prince of Wales and the founder
of the celebrated observatory at Kew.
and died 1727.

Posted in George Russell 'AE'

No Shining Star

A nation is but a host of men united by some God-begotten mood, some hope of liberty or dream of power or beauty or justice or brotherhood, and until that master idea is manifested to us there is no shining star to guide the ship of our destinies. […] We have to do for Ireland—though we hope with less arrogance—what the long and illustrious line of German thinkers, scientists, poets, philosophers, and historians did for Germany, or what the poets and artists of Greece did for the Athenians: and that is, to create national ideals, which will dominate the policy of statesmen, the actions of citizens, the universities, the social organizations, the administration of State departments, and unite in one spirit urban and rural life. Unless this is done Ireland will be like Portugal, or any of the corrupt little penny-dreadful nationalities which so continually disturb the peace of the world with internal revolutions and external brawlings, and we shall only have achieved the mechanism of nationality, but the spirit will have eluded us.

‘AE’ (George William Russell) on the need for a national reflective tradition. He sees in the Ireland of his time the mistaking of feelings for thought and the overdominance of passion in politics. From The National Being (1916)

Posted in George Berkeley

Irish Times Unthinkable: Prof David Berman on George Berkeley

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From the Irish Times. Joe Humphreys talks to David Berman, professor emeritus, about Berkeley’s background, his philosophy and whether modern science has proved him wrong.

Also see this, on the talk Prof. David Berman is giving in the RIA today.

Posted in Oliver Goldsmith

Goldsmith: a coda to the Irish Golden Age of Philosophy

Detail of the Goldsmith statue outside Trinity College Dublin Source: Wikicommons/CC (Edit)
Detail of the Goldsmith statue outside Trinity College Dublin
Source: Wikicommons/CC (Edit)

David Berman places the publishing of Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of The Sublime and Beautiful as marking the end of the Irish Golden Age of Philosophy.

“Irish aesthetics begins in the 1720s with Hutcheson, and it may be said to end in 1757 with Burke” (Berman, p. 129) As well as distinguishing between the terms “sublime” and “beautiful”, Burke also argued against George Berkeley’s utility theory of beauty: “‘…beauty riseth from the appearance of use …’. (Berman, p. 130 (quoting Alciphron, III. 9.) and p. 131) Burke notes

if the utility theory were correct ‘the wedge-like snout of a swine, with its tough cartilage at the end, the little sunk eyes, and the whole make of the head, so well adapted to its office of digging and rooting, would be extremely beautiful’.

In a coda to the Irish aesthetics debate, and to the Golden Age itself, Oliver Goldsmith reviewed Burke’s book in the Monthly Review in which he described the book, and argued against some points in footnotes. In one, he suggested that utility can in fact lead to ideas of beauty:
Continue reading “Goldsmith: a coda to the Irish Golden Age of Philosophy”

Posted in Post 1922: Contemporary

de Selby, the philosopher preserved by Flann O’Brien

Human existence being an hallucination containing in itself the secondary hallucinations of day and night (the latter an insanitary condition of the atmosphere due to accretions of black air) it ill becomes any man of sense to be concerned at the illusory approach of the supreme hallucination known as death.

de Selby. An epigraph from the frontispiece of The Third Policeman

de Selby is included in Wikipedia’s Irish Philosopher category. We have no good evidence for his being Irish but due to the fact the vast majority of the evidence of his existence comes from an Irish source, I believe he deserves inclusion here.

Despite living a good twenty centuries later, de Selby has suffered the same fate as the preSocratics, with his original books being completely lost. In addition all original copies of the copious secondary literature on de Selby is no longer available. The vast majority of what remains is the material, both original and secondary, collected in a series of footnotes in a quasi-autobiographical work credited to a Flann O’Brien (1). Due to the patchwork nature of the references in this tertiary work it is impossible to trace the development of de Selby’s thought or get a sense of his system, if he had one. However we can piece together a small account of the theories of de Selby with a few of his epigrams and get a sense of the interest and controversy surrounding his work.(2)
Continue reading “de Selby, the philosopher preserved by Flann O’Brien”

Posted in John Toland

Newton in the Letters to Serena

The signature of Bruno’s ideas on motion and matter is evident throughout Toland’s Letters to Serena (1704). In Serena, matter is one, motion is inherent in matter, and no void exists. Toland’s matter is the source of life itself, whereas Newtonian matter is ‘sluggish, inactive, brute and stupid’. Toland fully accepted Newton’s physics. In fact he was one of the first writers to bring word of Newton’s science into France. However, he argued that Newton’s interpretation of his own laws was not the only possible interpretation.

The acceptance of Newton’s physics in Letters to Serena by the most notorious freethinker of the time had the effect of making Newton somewhat suspect to orthodox Anglicans. The first edition of Opticks (1704) had only sixteen queries; Newton added seven more between 1704 and the 1706 Latin version. However, there is in existence an early draft of the twenty-third query which differs significantly from the later (published) version. Thus Newton wrote and rewrote this query between the publication of Serena, and the Latin edition of Opticks in 1706. Here he tried to grapple with the significance of Toland’s hylozoism [the doctrine that all matter has life]. The draft version of the twenty-third query states:

it seems to have been an ancient opinion that matter depends upon a Deity for its laws of motion as well as for its existence. These are passive laws and to affirm that there are no others is to speak against experience. …all matter duly formed is attended with signes of life.

This text does not appear in the final version of query twenty-three. As the person who had given the English ruling class its ideological justification, publicly stating that ‘all matter duly formed is attended with signes of life’ would have undermined the status quo and aligned Newton with Toland and the heretic Bruno! One suspects that Newton may have become a prisoner of his own ideology, trapped in the cul-de-sac of orthodoxy.

From Philip McGuinness (1996) ‘The Hue and Cry of Heresy’ John Toland, Isaac Newton & the Social Context of Scientists, History Ireland, Issue 4.

Posted in John Toland

Irish Times Unthinkable: Dr Ian Leask on the legacy of John Toland

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Courtesy this article from the Irish Times by Joe Humphreys.

Posted in Edmund Burke

Jesse Norman on Edmund Burke

From My Favourite Political Thinker series on Daily Politics. Giles Dilnot talks to Jesse Norman about Irish philosopher Edmund Burke, who shaped the UK politics of today according to Norman. 

Source: BBC.

Posted in James Ussher

Fall in the House of Ussher

Ussher represented the best of scholarship in his time. He was part of a substantial research tradition, a large community of intellectuals working toward a common goal under an accepted methodology–Ussher’s shared “house” if you will pardon my irresistible title pun. Today we rightly reject a cardinal premise of that methodology–belief in biblical inerrancy–and we recognize that this false assumption allowed such a great error in estimating the age of the earth. […]

The textbook writers do not know that attempts to establish a full chronology for all human history (not only to date the creation as a starting point) represented a major effort in seventeenth-century thought. These studies did not slavishly use the Bible, but tried to coordinate the records of all peoples. Moreover, the assumption of biblical inerrancy doesn’t give you an immediate and dogmatic answer–for many alternative readings and texts of the Bible exist, and you must struggle to a basis for choice among them. As a primary example, different datings for key events are given in the Septuagint (or Greek Bible, first translated by the Jewish community of Egypt in the third to second centuries B.C. and still used by the Eastern churches) and in the standard Hebrew Bible favored by the Western churches.

Stephen Jay Gould, “Fall in the House of Ussher.” Natural History 100 (November 1991): 12-21 (available online here)
Continue reading “Fall in the House of Ussher”